“Be willing to step outside your comfort zone once in a while; take the risks in life that seem worth taking. The ride might not be as predictable if you’d just planted your feet and stayed put, but it will be a heck of a lot more interesting.” – Edward Whitacre, Jr.
That’s a connection very few people make, connecting “interesting” with “risk.” It is, however, a valuable truism, and one worth exploring.
Most of us feel “interesting” is a bit like adding a touch of whipped cream to a healthy serving of apple cobbler – it’s still mostly about the apple cobbler.
Pursuing “interesting” a bit further might not seem an interesting exercise until you come across an article entitled, “What does it mean to be ‘interesting?’ “ (Lorraine Besser, in Fastcompany, reprinted from Aeon), a very worthwhile and, wait for it, interesting read. This triggered a number of deeper thoughts that seemed worth sharing. Following a well-trod path, quotes from her article are indented.
Most of us know and value pleasant experiences. We savor the taste of a freshly picked strawberry (Blog: or apple cobbler). We laugh more than an event warrants, just because laughing feels good. We might argue about the degree to which such pleasant experiences are valuable, and the extent to which they ought to shape our lives, but we can’t deny their value.
One of the reasons we search out pleasant experiences is because much of our lives can be focused on adding value to someone or something else. Once in a while it’s nice to be on the receiving end, even if short lived.
What we probably don’t consciously realize is that those experiences land very close to the center of our Special Bubbles, the very center of who we are. They tend to reinforce that center, to reinforce our picture of our “world” (i.e., Special Bubble) and of ourselves. In a way these are our Confirmation biases physically playing out.
So pleasant experiences are necessarily valuable, but are there also valuable experiences that are not necessarily pleasant? It seems there are. Often, we have experiences that captivate us, that we cherish even though they are not entirely pleasant. We read a novel that leads us to feel both horror and awe. We binge watch a TV show that explores the shocking course of moral corruption of someone who could be your neighbor, friend, even your spouse. The experience is both painful and horrifying, but we can’t turn it off.
These experiences seem intuitively valuable in the same way that pleasant experiences are intuitively valuable. But they are not valuable because they are pleasant – rather, they are valuable by virtue of being interesting.
Rather than just being confirming, these experiences become interesting. The explanation follows,
What does it mean for an experience to be interesting? First, to say that something is interesting is to describe what the experience feels like to the person undergoing it. This is the phenomenological quality of the experience. When we study the phenomenology of something, we examine what it feels like, from the inside, to experience that thing.
In other words, how is our core being reacting to the interesting experience? This is an experience that doesn’t exactly resonate pleasantly with the center of who we are, but pushes towards the edge of our Bubble. Perhaps not strongly challenging us, certainly not to revulsion, but pushing up against our Bubble in a challenging but not quite offensive way. It’s interesting.
Trying new foods comes to mind, and the author further explores this type of experience among others we commonly encounter – books, a sunset, and often other people. A key point is,
… we aren’t describing the thing itself, but rather our experience of it. … The interesting is just like this. It is a feature of our experiential reaction, of our engagement.
While wrapping our head around the interesting might be challenging, it is important to acknowledge the value intrinsic to interesting experiences. Recognizing it as valuable validates those who choose to pursue the interesting, and also opens up a new dimension of value that can enrich our lives.
The point here is that, visually speaking, we’ve got both feet firmly in the midst of our Bubble but are leaning against an edge. We can choose to stretch the edge of our Bubble a bit and embrace the experience and the newness it provides, or we can step back without feeling unduly threatened.
For most of us, however, cutting close to the edge is uncomfortable, even threatening. We regard anything that is outside our Bubble through the filter (defense?) of Fundamental Principle 6 (Missing Information):
Choosing to stretch our Bubble and embrace both the growth and added value that comes with the new experience is itself a tremendous added value,
For many of us, though, interesting experiences are more rewarding than pleasurable experiences, insofar as their intrinsic value is a product of multifaceted aspects of our engagement. Interesting experiences spark the mind in a way that stimulates and lingers. They can also be easy to come by – sometimes just a sense of curiosity is needed to make an activity interesting. Look around, feel the pull, and cherish the interesting.
Below the surface is another truism,
When we embrace the interesting and stretch our Bubbles, we influence others to do the same; when we reject what’s outside our Bubble and throw up our defenses, we influence others to do the same.
Don’t just cherish, but embrace the interesting.